In a genre built upon innovation and refinement of core ideas, EVE Online stands alone as an almost entirely unique game. Sure, there might be aspects where EVE seems to cheat by borrowing ideas from other MMORPGs. But, by and large, the universe CCP has created is unlike anything else. While most other games tend to follow a logical progression of innovation, where playing the predecessor equips you for playing the successor, there really isn't much of an analogue for EVE Online. For one, this makes learning how to play an incredibly trying time. Without a doubt, EVE's biggest challenge is getting its players to survive their first few hours within the game.
But once you're over that hump and the vast expanse of New Eden starts to become a little more familiar, EVE Online tends to grab on and never let go. But while I've had the chance to talk with leaders of massive coalitions, stealthy killers styling themselves as delivery men, and a group of elite skirmishers taking on fights severely outnumbered, I've never taken the opportunity to chat with a relatively new player.
Of course, at one time I was a bright-eyed pilot myself. In fact, like too many other pilots, I quit after my first attempt at getting into the game. Looking back, I had taken all the right steps that a new player should take. I avoided mining like the plague, I joined a corporation and socialized, and when we got involved in a declaration of war I got ready to fight as best I could. But being new, I had no idea what actually being at war meant. So, like a newbie would, I went flying about without even knowing how to identify a hostile target. Minutes later I was staring at the wreckage of my shiny new Gallente destroy, a Catalyst, and feeling that sinking feeling every pilot gets when they lose their first ship. I had done everything right except one thing: I flew what I could not afford to lose. Almost eight months later and I was dipping my toes back into New Eden, and this time I stuck around.
It's crazy to think that was almost four years ago. And I find myself fascinated with rekindling the memory of what it was like playing EVE Online back then, when everything was so obtuse and cryptic and scary. So, I did what any columnist would do and I decided to go and find out.
After some poking around various message boards and asking suitably skeptical newbies in-game, I was able to round up a few players to talk about their first experiences within the game.
One of those players, who for the sake of keeping him anonymous we'll call Wolf, was one such plucky newcomer to New Eden. Only two weeks into the game and I was delighted to hear that, instead of fizzling out in high-sec mining all day, he had already joined a corporation and moved out to null-sec.
"I played a lot of Elite: Dangerous," Wolf told me. "But the game felt like it was a mile wide and an inch deep. I loved the atmosphere, but I wanted a space game with more player involvement to it. I heard good things about EVE and read everything I could before diving straight in."
Like most, Wolf was aware of EVE because of just how big a presence the game had commanded online. When your MMORPG routinely makes headlines due to the size of its conflicts, it shouldn't be a surprise that most are, at least, acutely aware of it.
I was interested in knowing what Wolf wanted to do in a game that lets you do so much.
"Honestly, I have no idea what I'm looking for out of the game yet," he responded. "Elite: Dangerous' problem has always been in being too reliant on players to come up with their own fun and not enough things for players to do. I'm just hoping that isn't the case with EVE."
I set my sights a bit lower, asking Wolf what his current goal was. He told me that he wanted to get to the point where he could pay his subscription with the money he was making in-game, a lofty goal at best (and one that won't likely be achieved without some serious entrepreneurship on his end).
When I asked Wolf what he thought made EVE such a challenge to get into, he had an insightful answer that helped me realize the privilege that long-term players tend to become accustomed to.
"The hardest part about getting into the game is how much of a mountain there is to climb. I've been playing for two weeks so far and I've amassed my entire wealth of around 20 million ISK. To me in my newbie 300k ISK ship, this looked like an amazing accomplishment until someone in local chat casually mentioned how they spent 40 billion ISK on their ship."
Another unique aspect of EVE Online is the lax rules towards what other MMORPGs would undoubtedly brand harassment. Players are encouraged to steal, scam, and sleuth their way to vast fortunes. But I was interested how a new player would feel about partaking in such activities, and if maybe a willingness to do so was cultivated only after spending more time in the game.
"I would probably try [scamming] at least once, although I don't think I'd be very good at it since it requires both experience and a more questionable sense of morals, even if the money isn't real."
Though I barely know Wolf, it was obvious to me that he was likely a pretty strong candidate to become a pretty successful EVE player. Considering the others I talked to, who often ranged from fairly clueless to asking me things like "how do I close the game when I'm done?" Wolf seemed like he had his head on right. Even better, it was awesome to see a new player who was already involved in the shenanigans of null-sec space. Too many join EVE, run missions or mine for a week or two, and fizzle out. Such is the problem of sandbox games: the worst elements are usually the most obvious.
As for me, it was interesting talking and getting the perspective from a new player. If anything, I'm pretty shocked at how invested Wolf seemed. Two weeks in and, at least the way he was talking, it was easy to see he had a pretty good grasp on the game even if the nuances of it eluded him for now. But then again, we were all new to EVE at one point or another, and it can be a humbling exercise to remember that, at one time, New Eden felt like a pretty big place.